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Tone from the Top Podcast

Our world today is changing at the speed of light. Many pioneering organizations and in some cases, individuals are challenging traditional organizational cultures and hierarchical tailor-type models. What is quite striking is how the tone set by the senior team leaders, changes when they engage with their people.

This got the Executive Chairman of Open Communication Group, Simon Wright, wondering whether leaders consciously consider the impact of their words and positioning on the culture of their organizations – so he decided to speak to people at the top of their respective organizations to better understand their thoughts and opinions around this important topic. In his most recent podcast, Simon sits with Craig Wallace, Vice-President, Strategic Offerings and Partnerships, CGI, to highlight the significance of Organizational Culture led by its leaders. Craig has a wealth of experience in identifying value and driving transformational change across large international organizations.

Listen to this 30-minute episode to learn more about:

• How do leaders shape the culture of an organization by setting the tone of voice
• Role of communications function in large organizations
• How can communications teams add value to organizations
• Empowering employees to sift through information overload is key

Answering Simon’s question about how a Canadian-led tone or culture permeates through a global organization like CGI, Craig explains, “CGI is still led by our founder and so it retains that entrepreneurial mentality, which we call management foundation. Although we’re a global organization, we have five or six autonomous business units in each country to serve customers. We may have a standard way of working across various cultures, but there is a great degree of flexibility in terms of the geography and the clients we serve. It allows us to have different cultures, more appropriate to the local markets than, let’s say, an overall dominating Canadian culture,” he adds.

Craig also highlights the need for organizations to become more agile as a business, and that’s driving more organizations to create these autonomous business units closer to customers. “We’re seeing that happen a lot across organizations now. In a way, what our founder Serge Godin, Executive Chairman of the Board of CGI, put in place a long time ago, is now starting to become a very popular business model,” he says.

According to Craig, organizations are trying to work out how they can be a lot more agile in responding to change. It’s a structural decision that organizations are starting to take when they look at their operating model.

Responding to Simon’s question about setting a certain tone of voice as a senior leader within the organization, Craig says, “I think the role of communication is getting more important than ever. It can no longer be, let’s say, the marketing department of the corporation. The communications team has a much bigger role to play including investor relations, public relations, digital communications, and much more. Communication is becoming fundamental to any business,” he adds. However, Craig believes that the role of communications doesn’t stop there.

If you reimagine your organization as this sensing, living organization, that’s constantly adapting right in the face of these changes then the communications function is the one that enables that business agility. Instead of delivering the corporate messaging from top to bottom, they should share the learning across the whole organization, the best practices of innovation and transformation in those business units and share it with the whole organization.

The podcast highlights that the real value of a communications team lies in providing capabilities, knowledge, and tools for the people in those departments to excel at communications. They should effectively empower the whole organization to become great communicators. When Simon asks Craig if he ever evaluates the communication skills or tone of the candidates before hiring senior regional leadership, Craig says that his team holds interviews and they ask certain questions about communication. They also talk about many questions, which are not related to work to understand the person, their values, thinking, and beliefs to assess cultural fitness.

“Most importantly we hire people because they are curious and we can teach them certain skills – because getting people to be curious and making sure they have the right values is harder. So we tend to recruit them on that basis,” he adds.

Simon’s question about real commercial value in investing in internal communications is answered by Craig with great enthusiasm. “Absolutely and I think on two fronts: empowering communications to facilitate cultural change and making it easy for organizations to become more agile. I think that’s one area and good communication will accelerate that, but also accelerate the learning and maturity of the organization. I think the other interesting role for communications is coaching,” he remarks.

Talking about a great book Stolen Focus, Craig references internationally bestselling author Johann Hari, who went on a three-year journey to uncover the reasons behind people’s shortening attention spans. Johann interviewed the leading experts in the world on attention and learned that everything we think about this subject is wrong. We think our inability to focus is a personal failing – a flaw in each one of us. It is not. This has been done to all of us by powerful external forces. Craig says, “This book looks at the reason why we are losing focus. Average American now spends 3 hours 15 minutes on the phone. What they’ve discovered by analyzing data now is whereby a topic let’s say on Twitter, would hang around 17 and a half hours with people talking about it in 2013, that’s dropped down to 11.9 hours in 2016. In other words, we spend less time on these topics and there’s so much information coming at us now. It’s like drinking from the fire hose, and so organizations have a massive problem of communication overload and how to handle it.”

“There’s a great analogy of being a bouncer at a nightclub, that’s the front part of your brain – the prefrontal cortex. The bouncer can handle three or four troublemakers; but if it was suddenly swamped with 200 troublemakers, guess what – they’d get into the nightclub and cause chaos. That’s, what’s happening with us and the information we receive. We live in an age of information overload where our attention resources have been exhausted with the volume of information. Communications needs to add value and needs to help us in working out,” opines Craig.

I think this is a challenge most organizations are facing in that they’ve got too much information going around and people are kind of lost. So I think the bigger role of communication is to work out how to communicate in this fast world where we are inundated with information.

Employees should be provided with better guidance on what to say, to whom, and using which channel of communication. In addition to channels of communication they should ask key questions, like, does this need to go to the whole organization? As in these autonomous business units, a lot of communication can be kept local.

It’s also important to find out who can use the tools to keep them more focused and valuable. Organizations need to do more work on understanding how communication works in an organization. People can start to subscribe to the channels and information they want without ending up with so many emails thrown at them.

The podcast concludes with a look at measurement – not purely for to understand the ROI, but also for measuring the more intangible areas of the organization – such as inclusion and diversity amongst other things.

Simon Wright is the Executive Chairman of Open Communications Group and has spent the past two decades running communication agencies and a wealth of experience consulting with organizations from around the world.

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